- Character Bashing
- Canon Divergent
Tony was still sitting on the couch an hour later.
Luke had left after a call from his CO. Tony could admit to a little bit of worry. He’d known what the call was about, even though Luke hadn’t said anything. He probably had no idea that Tony’s security clearance was probably as high as his due to his work with Gibbs.
But he wasn’t going to press, even though that’s what he’d wanted to do. He’d only known about his brother for a little over two hours, and already he felt panic in his chest at the idea of losing him.
There was a time when Tony had been a loner, relying only on himself for everything. That had all changed the day he’d met Gibbs. For all that the man was as silent as the grave, he was also as steady as the Alleghany River. Tony knew he could count on Gibbs for anything, and at the point in his life when they’d met, that had been everything to him.
“You gonna sit there and brood all day?” Donna asked.
“Maybe,” Tony said. He sighed. “This sucks, you know?”
Donna walked into the office and dropped down on the couch next to him. “This does not suck. Sucking would be staying in a Motel 6 in the ass end of nowhere in Nebraska on a summer night in 85 percent humidity, without your luggage and basically being in enemy territory.”
“Okay, okay,” Tony said, holding up his hands in surrender. “I get it. This doesn’t suck. Except it really does.”
“Where was he headed?” Donna asked.
“He didn’t say, and I wasn’t going to ask,” Tony said, dropping his hands to his lap. “Probably someplace hostile on the other side of the planet. And now I’m not going to sleep tonight.”
“Poor baby,” Donna said. She patted his knee. “Bring Tali over tonight. You haven’t been over in a while, and Eli misses his girlfriend.”
“Eli is not her boyfriend,” Tony said, frowning at Donna. Well, he attempted to frown at her. The joke was old, but the truth was that Tali and Eli got along well, and with Meg still out of town, getting out of the house sounded like a good idea. “Fine. We’ll come over. You want me to bring anything?”
“Just yourselves,” Donna said. She got up and looked down at him, smirking. “Vance got called away, so I slotted Gibbs in instead. You still haven’t gone over last month’s budget figures with him. Good luck!”
Donna grinned at him, then headed back to her desk. Gibbs passed her on his way in.
Tony groaned. The only thing worse than talking budget with Vance was talking budget with Gibbs. McGee had stepped up in a real way when he’d become Gibbs’ SFA, but as the team lead, it was up to Gibbs to make sure the team stayed within the budget and negotiate exceptions or increases. Which for Gibbs meant authorizing overspending, and then giving Rule #18 a real workout. Add in Gibbs’ functional mute status, and the afternoon was shaping up to be an exercise in frustration.
“Go on in, Special Agent Gibbs,” Donna said. “Be warned: he’s in a funk.”
Gibbs raised an eyebrow at Donna, then turned to Tony, eyebrow still raised as he took in Tony’s slouch.
“Everything okay?” Gibbs asked.
Tony sat up and rubbed his hands over his face. “Just peachy, really. Meg’s out of town visiting a friend, the ladies at Tali’s preschool were hitting on me again this morning, and now I have to talk budget with you.”
“Tell him about Luke!” Donna yelled from her desk in the outer office.
“Luke?” Gibbs asked.
“Yeah,” Tony said, sighing.
He waved Gibbs into the office as he got up and headed for his desk. Gibbs shut the door and joined him. Instead of sitting down behind his desk, he dropped into the guest chair in front of his desk; Gibbs sat down beside him.
“So, who’s Luke?” Gibbs asked.
“My brother,” Tony said, deciding to just rip the band-aid off.
“You have a brother?” Gibbs asked, looking confused.
“Apparently, I have a brother,” Tony said. “Senior—who is clearly more of a bastard than even I thought he was—had an affair. I’m the result of that affair. Well, me and my brother that I only found out about today.”
Tony got up and paced around the room.
“Are you sure this guy’s legit?” Gibbs asked.
“He’s a SEAL. I doubt he came here to defraud me,” Tony said. “Besides, I had Kasie test our DNA. She’s as sure as she can be that we’re actually brothers. Jesus, Gibbs. What am I supposed to do with this?”
“What do you want to do with it?”
“I don’t fucking know!” Tony practically yelled. “I feel like—I feel like I’ve been lied to. Like, everyone in my life is lying to me. Ziva lied to me, and now I have a daughter. My father lied to me, and now I have a brother. And it’s not fair to Tali or Luke, but I feel like every time I get lied to, my life gets… Fuck. I can’t do this.”
“Do what?” Gibbs asked. “Seems to me you don’t have a choice.”
“You know, every time I find out someone lied to me, my life gets turned upside down,” Tony said quietly. “And I have to change to accommodate someone else, when all I’ve ever done is live the life I wanted to live, and fuck my father and his expectations.”
“Not Tali’s fault,” Gibbs said. “Not Luke’s fault, either.”
“Yeah,” Tony said with a sigh. “I hate that I might resent my own daughter for… anything. It’s not her fault, and it’s not Luke’s fault, and I don’t want to resent him for this. He doesn’t deserve that.”
Gibbs got up and walked across the room, laying a hand on Tony’s shoulder.
“What do I do, Gibbs?” Tony asked desperately. “How do I not blame Luke for something he had no control over?”
“Family is a gift, Tony,” Gibbs said. “Told you that when you came to see me just before you left town with Tali last year. What do you do when you find out you have a family you never knew you had? You hold on to them, and you never let go. And you remember that you’re never promised more than today, so you make the most of it.”
Tony took a deep breath. “Yeah. Right.”
Tony felt the guilt slice through him. It was so easy to forget that Gibbs had a family and a life before NCIS, and that he’d lost it all. It was easy to think that he’d always been this way, but there’d been a time in his life when he’d been a husband and a father. When he’d been happy and looking forward to what the future held.
And if there was one thing Tony knew, it was that he didn’t want to end up like Gibbs: isolated from the world and living in a state of suspended animation. Tony wanted to live his life, and if that meant rolling with every new punch that came his way, well, that was what he’d do. He didn’t really have a choice, anyway.
Gibbs stepped back and Tony rubbed his face again, tilting his head from side to side to work the kinks out.
“Sorry about that,” Tony said when he’d finally shaken off the emotional overload.
“You ever need me, you know where to find me,” Gibbs said.
“Wow, did you use up your word quota for the day?” Tony asked, smirking at his former boss.
Gibbs snorted. “Got coffee?”
Donna sailed in at that moment, bearing two mugs with steaming coffee inside. Gibbs took a long sip, his eyes fluttering in bliss. Tony had to smother a smile; Donna, who was standing behind Gibbs, just grinned at him.
Gibbs turned and pressed a quick kiss to Donna’s cheek on his way back to the chair in front of Tony’s desk. It wasn’t the first time he’d done that, but it always made Donna blush. Tony winked at her, then turned and walked around his desk, settling in for what would probably be a long and painful budget discussion.
“So, let’s talk budget, shall we?” he asked.
Gibbs snorted again, but instead of saying anything, he just took another sip of his coffee.
Tony leaned back in his chair and sighed contentedly. Tali and Eli were playing in the family room, and while Tony couldn’t see them from where he was sitting, he could hear the joyous laughter as they played a game only the two of them understood.
“So, what are you going to do?” Josh asked.
Joshua Lyman had been the Chief of Staff for President Matt Santos for both terms in office, a rarity in Federal DC. After Santos had left office, Josh had switched gears and taken a professorship at Georgetown University, teaching the next generation of bright political minds. The ink had barely been dry on his contract when he and Donna had married, and Eli came along a year later.
He was also a good friend. They’d met while jogging through the Mall, back when Josh was still recovering from the sniper’s bullet that had nearly killed him. Their friendship had come as a surprise to both of them, but Tony valued Josh’s insights, and his forthrightness, almost to the point of pain. To own the truth, Josh had been the first person Tony had thought of when he realized he needed someone to talk to.
“I have no fucking clue,” Tony said in a burst of honesty.
“How’d you leave it?” Josh asked. “I mean, do you have his number? Can you call him? Talk to him?”
“And say what?” Tony asked, exasperated.
“Oh, I don’t know, how about ‘what was our mother like?'”
Tony cringed. It hadn’t even occurred to him to ask any questions about Luke’s mother, even as he’d freely shared the most sordid details about their father.
“I’ll take that as a no,” Josh said. He tossed his napkin on the table. “Here’s the thing, and I think you know this. Having a family is everything. I watched my boss come practically unglued the day his daughter was kidnapped. He was ready to start a war, drop nukes on somebody’s ass, go in guns blazing as long as it got his daughter back. What would you do for Tali? What would Luke do for his kids? And if you’d been raised together, what would you do for each other?
“You’re family, always have been, if the DNA results can be believed,” Josh went on. “And I know you’ve been disappointed by family in the past, but that’s the past. You don’t know Luke, except that he’s a SEAL—which, I’m assuming they don’t hire assholes to be SEALs—so don’t you owe it to yourself to find out who he is? Your father clearly wanted to forget he even had another son, but you know about him now, and that’s knowledge you can’t ignore.”
“I know,” Tony said quietly. He stared across the room for a moment, listening as Tali and Eli murmured quietly. Donna had put a movie on, and the two kids had snuggled up with her on the couch, entirely enthralled. It made him wonder if Luke’s kids did the same thing with Francesca. Which was an answer all its own. “I know I need to… stop trying to blame him for my father’s bad acts. He’s just as much a victim as I am. Maybe more, because he’s had his whole legacy, such as it is, stolen from him. I just… don’t know how to start that conversation. Any conversation, really. How do you talk to the brother you never knew you had?”
“There I cannot help you,” Josh said in his best Inigo Montoya.
Tony threw his wadded-up napkin at him. “Funny.”
“There is something else you should consider,” Josh said. He poured a bit more wine in his glass, waggling the bottle at Tony in invitation. Tony just held his glass out; they were probably going to need more wine if they kept talking about this.
“What else is there?” Tony asked.
“The money,” Josh said. “You must have some idea where Senior got the money. Do you think your mother would have given it to him?”
“She was utterly in love with him, so I could see her doing that,” Tony said. “But I just don’t know. Luke seemed to think that my mother had no idea where I came from, which I can believe. She was… lost in the fog, most of the time.”
“So, then, maybe your first order of business should be looking into the family trust,” Josh said. “If the money came from your mother, there’d be a record of it. You became the Trustee for her trust fund after her death, right?”
“When I turned 25, yes,” Tony said. “Before that, the Paddington family lawyer guarded the vault, and let me tell you, Smaug had nothing on her.”
Josh laughed, as he was meant to. “Okay, so call your lawyer. Have him look into it.”
“Don’t you mean, ‘have Harvey’s intern look into it’?”
“Same thing, right?” Josh asked with a sly smirk. “I mean, you’ve said before that you trust him. He was the one that got your father’s fingers out of your education trust, back in the day. But if you’re looking for someone to have your back, send one of your people. They’ll be looking for fraud, which is a federal offense. You could call it an official investigation, if you need to.”
“Which would mean I expect to eventually file charges against my own father,” Tony said. “This really sucks, you know?”
“No, it really doesn’t,” Josh said. “What sucks is—”
“No, really,” Tony said, holding up a hand. “I already go the lecture from your wife. Being stuck in the ass end of the Midwest really isn’t even close to this.”
“You weren’t facing off the angry mob with torches and pitchforks,” Josh said. “I swear if we’d been in that town just one more hour, we’d have been put on a pike in a field like a scarecrow.”
“Melodramatic, much?” Tony asked.
“Look, I know you don’t want to investigate your father,” Josh said, leaning forward to look Tony in the eye. “But it’s not like there’s not precedent for this. If he took money from you, you need to get it back. Or what’s left of it. And there needs to be real consequences for what he did.”
“He’s an old man now,” Tony said quietly. “Do I really want to be the reason my father dies in prison? I don’t know if I want him to miss out on Tali’s life like that. She’s all he has, really, besides me.”
“And he stole from you,” Josh said, quietly but forcefully. “He stole money, but more than that, he stole family from you. He stole your mother—both of them—and a brother you never knew you had until today. In no world that I’m aware of is that okay. Justice is blind, my friend, for a reason.”
“Yeah,” Tony said, gusting out a sigh as he leaned back in his chair. “Yeah.”
Tony dialed the number and waited for it to connect. He had no idea if Luke would pick up, but he had to try.
“Hey, Luke,” Tony said, exhaling sharply with the knowledge that at least he wasn’t somewhere unreachable. It wasn’t much comfort, but it was a little.
“Tony?” Luke asked. “Is something wrong?”
“No, nothing like that,” Tony said. “Besides, isn’t that supposed to be my line?”
Luke chuckled. “I’m still in North Carolina. No news is usually good news, and we’re in a holding pattern now, but that could change at any moment. What can I do for you?”
“Well, I thought I’d look into the money,” Tony said. “I mean, what’s mine is yours now anyway, but if Dad didn’t steal it from my mother, we need to know.”
“Hey, I’m not asking for money from you,” Luke said. “I don’t want you to think that’s the only reason I looked you up. I guess I just… needed to know who my brother is. Maybe meet you, just once.”
“I get it,” Tony said. He swallowed hard. “The thing is, I have no idea what to do with any of this. I’m just blundering through, at this point. So if I say something stupid, promise you won’t hold it against me.”
“I can do that,” Luke said. “If you’ll do the same.” He paused, then went on. “You know, I was really pissed at you when I first found out.”
“Oh yeah? Why?” Tony asked, though he figured he knew what was coming.
“Because… you got to grow up with him, and I didn’t,” Luke said. “You knew your father, and while Paul Sundstrom was a good Dad, he isn’t—he wasn’t my father.”
“Well, as a friend pointed out to me recently, we’ve both been stolen from,” Tony said. “You had your father stolen from you, and I had my mother stolen from me. But that doesn’t have to define us, or our relationship.”
“Is that something you might want?” Luke asked carefully. “To know me? I’m not—I won’t make demands, but I’d like to get to know you. Find out what we have in common. What your favorite food is. Your favorite sport.”
“Basketball,” Tony blurted out. “I used to play basketball at Ohio State. Football, too, before I broke my leg. There’s a bunch of guys from the alphabet soup that I play pick-up games with whenever I get the chance.”
“Yeah?” Luke asked. “I’m not too bad myself. With as much downtime as we have, basketball and weightlifting are probably the top two recreational activities around here.”
“Huh,” Tony said, more surprised than he’d admit that they both liked basketball. “So maybe the next time we see each other we’ll have to play a game. See what you’re made of.”
“Sure,” Luke said. “I’d love to get my ass kicked by a Big 10 point guard.”
“Looked me up, did you?” Tony asked, chuckling.
“Yeah, I did,” Luke said. “What? My big brother played D1 basketball. You think I’m not gonna brag on that?”
“Slow your roll, Junior,” Tony said. “That was a long time ago, and I wasn’t even a starter. Besides, like I said, I broke my leg, which was the end of my basketball career, and I’m… well, let’s just say I’m old enough that the body doesn’t work the way it used to.”
“I know exactly how old you are, Tony. Remember?” Luke said. “And I’m going to call bullshit on you being out of shape. You might have been wearing a suit, but I could see the muscles underneath.”
“It used to be easier to stay in shape,” Tony lamented. “Before Tali.”
Luke chuckled. “Yeah, kids do tend to reorganize your priorities.”
There was some muffled noise in the background that Tony couldn’t quite make out. He thought he heard someone talking, but it could just as easily have been the radio.
“Listen, Tony, I gotta go,” Luke said after a moment. “I’ll send you the contact information for my mother’s lawyer. He knows you might reach out. I may be out of touch for a bit, but I’ll send you my wife’s number, too. She knows what’s going on and can help if you need it.”
“Thanks, Luke,” Tony said. He rattled off his personal email address, then paused for a moment. “Happy hunting.”
He could hear Luke’s smile through the phone. “Thanks.”
Tony hung up and stared at his phone for a moment. It had all felt so natural; he had felt the resentment sliding away, little by little as they talked.
Tony looked up, finding Donna leaning against the door jamb. “Yeah, I’m good.” Donna raised an eyebrow, drawing a smile out of him. “Really. It’s just… one foot in front of the other.”
“You got that from a Christmas special, didn’t you?” Donna asked, pointing at him.
“I have a four-year-old,” Tony said. “What do you think?”
“So, Bishop or McGee?”
“Bishop or McGee what?” Tony asked, frowning.
“Who do you want to send to New York?” Donna asked. “Personally, I think Harvey would have McGee for breakfast, but you’ve known him a long time, and you trust him.”
Tony tilted his head. He was extremely proud of Timothy McGee and how far he’d come from the young, arrogant yet uncertain Probie he’d been when he’d first joined the MCRT. But this? He wasn’t sure he wanted McGee all up in his business like this.
“Bishop,” Tony said. “Have her come up at the end of the day. I’ll explain it to her then.”
“And who’s going to explain it to Gibbs?”
Tony’s face showed momentary panic before he could school it into his usual mask. Donna just laughed at him as she walked back to her desk.